Multiple myeloma survivor: Staying positive is a way to give back to others

When Marie Chaplinksy went in for a checkup with her cardiologist in March 2017, she was surprised when she was called back to have her bloodwork done for a second time. Her test results showed that she was very anemic, and her doctor noticed other concerning markers. After the second round of tests, her cardiologist suspected that she had cancer and referred her to MD Anderson. Marie, now 71, set up an appointment at MD Anderson West Houston, which was much closer to her home in Katy than the Texas Medical Center location. After additional testing, she learned that she had stage I multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that affects bone marrow. She was also considered high-risk due to the results of her bone marrow aspiration, which was done during her diagnostic testing. Approximately 15% of patients with multiple myeloma are considered to have high-risk disease, which is associated with a shorter remission and an earlier risk of relapse. The diagnosis came as a shock to Marie, who didn’t show any symptoms. Multiple myeloma patients may experience bone lesions or kidney issues as the disease progresses. “I was encouraged by my team’s knowledge and expertise. They shared with me that while there was no cure for multiple myeloma, they had instances of patients still living after 17 years,” says Marie. “I wanted to be one of those people.” Multiple myeloma treatment closer to home In May 2017, Marie’s doctors prescribed chemotherapy, which would be followed by a stem cell transplant. The chemotherapy treatments lasted for four months and included a combination of kyprolis, revlimid and dexamethasone. While Marie did not...

My proton therapy treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic

After retiring from a 35-year career teaching and coaching at my dream job, I’d planned to spend time with my wife, Joanna, and enjoy my favorite activities — hunting, fishing and training my three Labrador Retrievers. Two months later, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My prostate cancer diagnosis After my brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, I started getting annual prostate cancer screenings. For years, my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level was at a borderline level of 3.9, with no physical abnormalities. But in July 2019, my PSA level jumped to 4.9.  Since a PSA level of 4.0 or higher is a possible sign of prostate cancer, I had a prostate biopsy in October 2019. The pathology initially showed a Gleason 6 cancer. At that point, my urologist suggested I seek prostate cancer treatment.  My path to the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center I researched prostate cancer treatment options and reviewed the potential side effects for each one. I was interested in proton therapy because it often has fewer side effects. Shortly after that, I met a cancer survivor in my hunting club who’d undergone proton therapy at MD Anderson. After hearing about his experience, I contacted MD Anderson and was scheduled for a consultation with Dr. Seungtaek Choi. As soon as I walked into the Proton Therapy Center, everyone made me feel at home. Dr. Choi was incredible, too. He was very thorough, but he explained things in terms I could understand. MD Anderson’s pathologists reviewed my biopsy again and found that it showed a Gleason 7 cancer. That meant the prostate cancer was more aggressive...

Astrocytoma survivor: Why I chose MD Anderson for treatment

I believe everything happens for a reason. So, when I was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma — an aggressive type of brain cancer — in February 2017, I figured maybe it was so I could help someone else get through that same thing later on. That’s just the way I look at life. Whatever I can do to help people, I want to do it. That’s why I’m sharing my story. Because I went from having multiple seizures a day to having virtually no symptoms at all. My cancer has not shown any sign of growth since May 2017. And it’s all due to the treatment I received at MD Anderson. My brain cancer diagnosis I started having fainting spells around 1996, when I was in my mid-20s. My doctor thought they were heart-related, so he sent me to a cardiologist. I was diagnosed with syncope, or a temporary loss of consciousness caused by an irregular heartbeat. The cardiologist prescribed a heart medication. That solved the problem for almost 20 years. Then, about three years ago, I started having trouble with fainting spells again. I never got a headache or anything, but sometimes I’d perceive a certain smell or feel a strange sensation on my skin, like cold cream was being poured over me. My cardiologist sent me to another specialist for some additional testing. That doctor recommended a pacemaker. I had one installed, but that still didn’t solve the problem. I continued to have fainting episodes, and it took me almost five minutes to recover from each one. I saw a neurologist, who determined that these were actually seizures....

MD Anderson helped me achieve my family dream after non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment

In 2016, my husband and I were trying to expand our family. A swollen lymph node almost derailed our plans entirely. I’d felt the lump in my neck by chance one day, when I rubbed my hand along the underside of my jaw. I thought it was an abscess caused by a failed root canal. It turned out to be advance stage high grade B cell lymphoma, a subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Though grateful not to be pregnant at the time, I was still devastated by the thought of not being able to have more children. I knew certain cancer treatments could leave me infertile, and my husband and I had always planned to have three kids. We were hoping to give our two little boys a sister. Fortunately, I went to MD Anderson for my non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment. My doctors there not only gave us hope that we could still have more children — they also gave us options to maximize our chances. Exploring fertility-preserving options before non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment I was already 35 at the time of my non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, so I wasn’t sure how much my age would affect my fertility. Cancer patients are usually advised to wait at least two years after completing chemotherapy before trying to conceive. That timeline would put me just shy of my 38th birthday. I wasn’t interested in freezing my eggs, but wanted to explore my options. So my oncologist, Dr. Hun Ju Lee, referred me to reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Terri Woodard to discuss my fertility preservation options. Ultimately, my husband and I decided on one of the least-invasive:...

10 things to know about COVID-19 testing

Testing for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is increasing in many communities. But who actually needs coronavirus testing, and what types of tests are most accurate? What actually happens during a COVID-19 nasal swab test? And what does it mean if your test results come back negative? We spoke with Micah Bhatti, M.D., to learn more. What actually happens during a COVID-19 nasal swab test? How does COVID-19 testing work? The person conducting the test will insert a long stick with a very soft brush on the end — kind of like a pipe cleaner — up your nose and twirl it around for a few seconds. The soft bristles will collect a sample of secretions there for analysis. The swab has to go pretty far back, because cells and fluids must be collected from along the entire passageway that connects the base of the nose to the back of the throat to get a really good specimen. The body is not used to having an object in that area, though, so it creates a lot of very odd sensations. For one thing, it activates the lachrymal reflex, which means it’ll bring tears to your eyes if it’s done correctly. I wouldn't go so far as to say it hurt, but it is uncomfortable. Since the swab will also touch the back of the throat, it may also trigger a gag reflex. Are there any other types of COVID-19 tests available? Yes, tests can be performed on other specimen types that are less invasive, such as a throat swab. But they are less sensitive than the COVID-19 nasal swab test....